Get ready for sticker shock at the museum.
The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved requests to raise the admission fee from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum, but not without dissent from some board members who objected to Chicago residents who they bear the brunt of the pain in their wallets.
Representatives from both museums cited inflation, higher salaries and benefits, the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, and higher operating costs as factors behind the need to raise admission prices.
The Museum of Nature is raising its entry fee for the first time in 15 years, and the hike is substantial. Chicago adults currently pay $9 for admission; the price will go up nearly 70% to $15 under the new rate structure. Nonresident adults will see their fee increase from $9 to $17.
Erin Amico, the new president and CEO of the Nature Museum, said that even with the higher admission prices, the museum was still at the lower end of similar institutions, including her colleagues Museums in the Park.
Looking at the same 15 years, the cost of staples like a pound of butter has increased by 90%, Amico said. “This is the reality we live in.”
Commissioner Donald Edwards questioned whether such a “one-off significant increase” was necessary or whether a smaller increase would make more sense. “I think it’s a bad strategy to ramp everything up at once,” he said.
Amico said she and her team didn’t want to hit consumers with multiple small hikes every few years.
The board eventually approved the increase, with Edwards abstaining and Commissioner Jose Munoz voting against. The museum expects the increase to bring in an additional $200,000 in revenue. (Click here for the complete fee structure of the Naturalistic Museum.)
Le Monte Booker, the Field Museum’s chief financial officer, was next to take the stand, advocating the Field’s first increase since 2018.
Edwards refined the Field’s proposal to raise admission by $1 across the board for nonresidents, but $3 for all categories of Chicagoans, from children to seniors to adults.
The disparity means that Chicagoans now receive a smaller discount than the admission charged to out-of-town residents. Given that city taxpayers already provide the Field Museum with $4 million to $5 million annually in Park District outlays, a significant discount should be maintained, Edwards said.
Booker replied that the museum’s goal was to “standardize our (price) levels”.
“I’m not sure I appreciate that part of your strategy,” Edwards said.
As with the Nature Museum, the Field increase passed, this time with Munoz abstaining and Edwards absent from the vote. (Click here for the complete industry fee structure.)
Board Chair Myetie Hamilton warned both museums, saying the board would demand a greater level of accountability and accountability from institutions on a number of fronts, including calling for a Chicago borough to allocate museum visitors.
Hamilton also encouraged museums to review their day-off policies. Although the Field and Nature Museum offers 52 free days a year, scheduling them on a weekday or moving them forward to January and February isn’t necessarily convenient for many Chicagoans, she noted.
And while both museums offer heavily discounted admission to low-income families, Hamilton questioned how well the offer is advertised to the people who would benefit.
“I want to emphasize access and exposure,” Hamilton said.
Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]